“Your friends can get you into more trouble than you can get into yourself.” – Judge Alton P. Johnson –
Late 1990’s – I walk into the office of Johnson, Dangle, and Parmer looking for a job before I enter law school. As Bob Dangle greets me, I hear a familiar voice in an office down the hall. Bill “Red” Johnson is having a vigorous discussion with another lawyer. As I am walking toward Bill’s office, I see a man with suspenders and a towel around his neck. The man wearing the suspenders is Bill’s son; Alton “Al” Johnson. Al approaches me and says, “Let’s go into my office.”
His office is almost empty. I ask him why. With a confident smile, he says, “I have been appointed to serve as our Chief Magistrate Judge. This will be your office now.”
The Chief Magistrate is sometimes referred to as “The People’s Judge.” That term is based on the type of work and cases that come before the magistrate court. Magistrate judges preside over many types of cases. They handle civil disputes like landlord/tenant disputes, code violations, and civil lawsuits. They also handle criminal matters such as first appearances and preliminary hearings.
As Chief Magistrate, Al served the people for over two decades. He defined how a “People’s Judge” should operate.
Sadly, in April 2022, cancer ended my friend’s service on the bench and his life.
April 8th, 2022 – People are gathering at the funeral home. I walk into a room with a large computer screen that is showing slides of Al’s life. The pictures remind me of the man he was and our friendship.
The first memory is sparked by a picture of my father. For years, we would gather a group of hunters and friends to venture into the South Dakota wilderness in search of pheasants. Even though I am not talented at hitting moving targets with a shotgun, I enjoyed being outdoors with Al and other friends.
The second memory is sparked by seeing Bill looking at Al with the pride of a father. Al was blessed to have a father who loved him and taught him to speak his mind instead of what others wanted to hear. Al was the most plain spoken man I ever met.
The third memory comes to light when I see a picture of Al and his wife; Kelsie Johnson. The love between them was obvious. Kelsie is an excellent attorney and inspired her husband to be strong and fair.
He was also one of the most caring men I have ever met. I cannot remember a court appearance when he did not ask about my family and tell me to take my boys to Al and Kelsie’s pond.
While on the bench, Judge Johnson always sought to do the right thing. He made it very clear how he felt about the evidence before him. Those who interrupted him did so only once. He ran a tight ship and served our people well.
On Fridays, there was never a shortage of doughnuts at the magistrate court. He would insist that everyone “grab a doughnut.”
The People’s Judge, Al Johnson, died at a young age. But he and his service to our community will not be forgotten.
Three very qualified candidates were considered for the short list to become our new Chief Magistrate. Judge Michael Hubbard has accepted the position and will be sworn into office soon.
Judge Hubbard, who has served the city of Villa Rica as their judge for years, will take the reins and ensure that justice is served in the Carroll County Magistrate Court.
I miss Al. He was a friend. But, I know that he is with his earthly and Heavenly fathers today.
Al, thank you for your service to our community and friendship over the years.